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In March, provincial Progressive Conservatives decide who will lead them into June's election after the surprise ouster of Patrick Brown – and his equally surprising entry into, then resignation from, the race for his old job. Here's what you need to know

Table of contents The candidatesThe backstoryDates to watch

At left, four of the candidates for the Ontario Conservative party leadership – Tanya Granic Allen, Christine Elliott, Doug Ford and Caroline Mulroney – pose for a photo in TVO studios in Toronto after a televised debate on Feb. 15. The four are running to replace Patrick Brown, right, who in a matter of weeks was ousted as party leader, announced his candidacy for his old job and then resigned as a candidate.

The candidates

Christine Elliott

  • Age: 62
  • Background: Ms. Elliott, who spent nine years as a Whitby-area MPP, is making her third attempt at the Ontario PC leadership, after losing in 2009 to Tim Hudak and in 2015 to Patrick Brown. She stepped aside from politics three years ago to become the province’s first-ever patient ombudsman. She is also the widow of Jim Flaherty, a provincial and federal finance minister who also sought the party leadership unsuccessfully. Mr. Flaherty died of a heart attack in 2014.
  • Policies: Ms. Elliott says her past experience at Queen’s Park is what the party needs to renew itself. She says she’ll mostly stick to the PC platform announced in November, the People’s Guarantee, a packet of 147 promises including cuts to income taxes and hydro rates, more money for mental health and a takeover of Toronto’s subway infrastructure. But Ms. Elliott is personally opposed to the plan’s proposed carbon tax.
  • Profile: Christine Elliott takes an entirely different tone for one last, unexpected chance at the helm of the Ontario PCs
  • More reading: John Ibbitson: Christine Elliott has key advantages in toss-up race

Doug Ford

  • Age: 53
  • Background: Mr. Ford is the son of Doug Ford Sr., who served one term as a Progressive Conservative MPP and co-founded a printing business, Deco Labels, where the younger Doug Ford became president in the early 2000s. Doug Ford entered municipal politics in 2010 as a councillor and right-hand man to his brother, mayor Rob Ford, and ran unsuccessfully for the mayoralty himself after his brother was diagnosed with cancer. Before the Ontario PCs’ leadership crisis, Doug Ford had been planning to run for mayor again in 2018.
  • Policies: Mr. Ford, who was a strong backer of Mr. Brown before his ouster, blames “elites” for the party’s “complete disarray.” At his campaign launch, he promised a platform of low taxes and to scrap the carbon tax.
  • More reading: Adam Radwanski: Doug Ford as leader is a nightmare for many Ontario PCs, but there’s a silver lining in his bid

Caroline Mulroney

Tanya Granic Allen

  • Background: Ms. Granic Allen, a socially conservative commentator and activist, is an outspoken advocate against the Liberals’ updated sex-education curriculum.
  • Policies: Opposing sex education is Ms. Granic Allen’s main policy and stated reason for entering the race. She also describes herself as a fiscal conservative and blames corruption for having “run this party into the ground.”

Who's dropped out

Patrick Brown

  • Age: 39
  • Background: This leadership race began as a last-minute effort to replace Mr. Brown, who was ousted as party leader in January amid sexual misconduct allegations from his years as a federal Conservative MP. Mr. Brown’s staff quit en masse, the party announced his resignation and, weeks later, interim leader Vic Fedeli booted him from caucus completely. But on Feb. 16, the last day for candidates to declare themselves, Mr. Brown shocked everyone by jumping into the race. A week later, the party executive gave him the go-ahead to run for his old job.
  • Why he left: Mr. Brown’s 10 days in the race were a tumultuous time, with pressure from rival candidates urging him to quit, claims that his vetting process had been manipulated and a decision by the province’s Integrity Commission to look into his personal finances (more on that below). In a tweet announcing his exit on Feb. 26, Mr. Brown claimed his family had been threatened and that he wanted to spend more time clearing his name with a lawsuit against CTV News, which first reported on the sexual misconduct allegations.
  • More reading: John Ibbitson: Patrick Brown’s exit is bad news for Kathleen Wynne

Vic Fedeli

  • Age: 61
  • Background: A former businessman and mayor of North Bay, Ont., Mr. Fedeli entered provincial politics in 2011 as a Progressive Conservative MPP for Nipissing. He ran for the party leadership in 2015, but dropped out to support Ms. Elliott. After Mr. Brown’s ouster, Mr. Fedeli was elected interim party leader and hoped to run for the leadership again.
  • Why he left: After only a few days as interim head of the party, Mr. Fedeli discovered its membership numbers didn’t add up (more on that below) and said the party structure was in “much worse shape” than he realized. He ordered an investigation and dropped out of the leadership race to devote his full attention to overseeing it.

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The backstory: How this leadership race happened

A month ago, few could have predicted the PCs would be scrambling for a new leader so soon before June's election. Kathleen Wynne's Liberals were trailing in the polls, and some predicted Patrick Brown would be the next premier of Ontario. But on Jan. 24, all that changed in a matter of hours, and the days that followed revealed deep divisions within the party. Here are some of the key points.

Brown's resignation: On the evening of Jan. 24, CTV News reported on allegations of sexual misconduct by Mr. Brown involving two young women. Minutes before the broadcast, Mr. Brown said the allegations were "categorically untrue" and that he would be back at work the next day. But shortly afterward, key members of his staff and campaign team resigned, saying he had ignored their advice to quit. After he faced pressure from senior party members, his resignation was announced overnight, an announcement he claimed weeks later was sent without his permission. On Feb. 16, Mr. Fedeli, the interim party leader, announced Mr. Brown had been removed from caucus, leaving him to sit as an independent MPP.

Rick Dykstra.

Dykstra's resignation: The party faced more scandal on Jan. 28 when party president Rick Dykstra resigned, hours before Maclean's magazine reported on alleged sexual impropriety from his years as a Conservative MP. Mr. Dykstra denies the allegations. The magazine later revealed internal e-mails in which then prime minister Stephen Harper's aides debated whether to drop Mr. Dykstra as a candidate, but they decided not to. Mr. Harper confirmed that he knew about the allegations too, but believed they had been settled by the police in 2014.

Membership problems: Mr. Fedeli revealed more turmoil within the party when it was discovered that membership numbers were far short of what Mr. Brown claimed they were. Last November, Mr. Brown told the party convention that, in his 2 1/2 years as leader, membership had risen from 10,000 to 200,000; but on Feb. 4, Mr. Fedeli said there were only about 133,000, and even that tally might not be accurate. Mr. Fedeli ordered an investigation of all the names in the membership database and the tactics used to sign them up.

Brown's finances: Ontario's Integrity Commissioner is looking into Mr. Brown's financial affairs after Tory MPP Randy Hillier, a supporter of Ms. Elliott, filed a complaint alleging "disconcerting patterns" of lavish travel and undisclosed gifts by the former leader. Mr. Hillier's also referred to a Globe and Mail report about talks between Mr. Brown and a future PC candidate, Jass Johal, in which, according to a document obtained by the newspaper, Mr. Brown discussed selling an interest in a Barrie restaurant he partly owns and some Aeroplan miles for $375,000. (Mr. Brown told The Globe no deal had been done and that he had "no business dealings with Mr. Johal.")

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How the leader will be chosen

Online voting began on March 2 and lasts until noon on March 9. Members had to join by Feb. 16 at 11:59 p.m. to be eligible to vote. A new leader will be announced on March 10 at a party gathering in Markham.

Voting will be conducted through a preferential ballot system that allots 100 points to each riding in Ontario. Each leadership candidate will receive points according to the proportion of the vote they receive in each riding. For example, if one candidate receives 55 per cent of the vote in Parkdale-High Park then they are awarded 55 electoral votes. Members have the option to rank the leadership candidates on their ballot, but doing so is not compulsory.

To win, a candidate must receive more than 50 per cent of the electoral votes. If no one crosses that threshold on the first ballot, then whoever's in last place drops off and their votes are reapportioned to the others. A candidate will also drop off the ballot if they receive fewer than 10 per cent of that ballot's total points.

More reading: Full party rules for 2018 leadership race

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With reports from Justin Giovannetti, Karen Howlett, Bill Curry and Tavia Grant

Photos from The Canadian Press